“Church History,” 1 March 1842

  • Source Note
  • Historical Introduction

Document Transcript

At the request of Mr. ,  Editor, and Proprietor of the “Chicago  Democrat,” I have written the following  sketch of the rise, progress, persecution,  and faith of the Latter-Day Saints, of  which I have the honor, under God, of be ing the founder. says,  that he wishes to furnish , a  friend of his, who is writing the history  of New Hampshire, with this document.  As has taken the proper  steps to obtain correct information all  that I shall ask at his hands, is, that he  publish the account entire, ungarnished,  and without misrepresentation.
I was born in the town of Sharon  Windsor co., Vermont, on the 23d of De cember, A. D. 1805. When ten years  old my parents removed to  New York, where we resided about four  years, and from thence we removed to  the town of .
My was a farmer and taught  me the art of husbandry. When about  fourteen years of age I began to reflect  upon the importance of being prepared  for a future state, and upon enquiring  the plan of salvation I found that there  was a great clash in religious sentiment;  if I went to one society they referred me  to one plan, and another to another; each  one pointing to his own particular creed  as the summum bonum of perfection:  considering that all could not be right,  and that God could not be the author of  so much confusion I determined to inves tigate the subject more fully, believing  that if God had a church it would not be  split up into factions, and that if he  taught one society to worship one way,  and administer in one set of ordinances,  he would not teach another principles  which were diametrically opposed. Be lieving the word of God I had confidence  in the declaration of James; “If any man  lack wisdom let him ask of God who giv eth to all men liberally and upbraideth  not and it shall be given him,” I retired  to a secret place in a grove and began to  call upon the Lord, while fervently en gaged in supplication my mind was taken  away from the objects with which I was  surrounded, and I was enwrapped in a [p. 706] heavenly vision and saw two glorious  personages who exactly resembled each  other in features, and likeness, surround ed with a brilliant light which eclipsed the  sun at noon-day. They told me that all  religious denominations were believing in  incorrect doctrines, and that none of them  was acknowledged of God as his church  and kingdom. And I was expressly com manded to “go not after them,” at the  same time receiving a promise that the  fulness of the gospel should at some future  time be made known unto me.
On the evening of the 21st of Septem ber, A. D. 1823, while I was praying  unto God, and endeavoring to exercise  faith in the precious promises of scripture  on a sudden a light like that of day, only  of a far purer and more glorious appear ance, and brightness burst into the room,  indeed the first sight was as though the  house was filled with consuming fire; the  appearance produced a shock that affected  the whole body; in a moment a personage  stood before me surrounded with a glory  yet greater than that with which I was  already surrounded. This messenger  proclaimed himself to be an angel of God  sent to bring the joyful tidings, that the  covenant which God made with ancient  Israel was at hand to be fulfilled, that  the preparatory work for the second com ing of the Messiah was speedily to com mence; that the time was at hand for the  gospel, in all its fulness to be preached in  power, unto all nations that a people  might be prepared for the millennial  reign.
I was informed that I was chosen to be  an instrument in the hands of God to  bring about some of his purposes in this  glorious dispensation.
I was also informed concerning the ab original inhabitants of this , and  shown who they were, and from whence  they came; a brief sketch of their origin,  progress, civilization, laws, governments,  of their righteousness and iniquity, and  the blessings of God being finally with drawn from them as a people was made  known unto me: I was also told where  there was deposited some plates on  which were engraven an abridgement of  the records of the ancient prophets that  had existed on this continent. The an gel appeared to me three times the same  night and unfolded the same things. Af ter having received many visits from the  angels of God unfolding the majesty, and  glory of the events that should transpire  in the last days, on the morning of the  22d of September A. D. 1827, the an gel of the Lord delivered the records into  my hands.
These records were engraven on plates  which had the appearance of gold, each  plate was six inches wide and eight in ches long and not quite so thick as com mon tin. They were filled with engra vings, in Egyptian characters and bound  together in a volume, as the leaves of a  book with three rings running through  the whole. The volume was something  near six inches in thickness, a part of  which was sealed. The characters on  the unsealed part were small, and beau tifully engraved. The whole book exhib ited many marks of antiquity in its  construction and much skill in the art of  engraving. With the records was found  a curious instrument which the ancients  called “Urim and Thummim,” which  consisted of two transparent stones set in  the rim of a bow fastened to a breast plate.
Through the medium of the Urim and  Thummim I translated the record by the  gift, and power of God.
In this important and interesting book  the history of ancient America is unfold ed, from its first settlement by a colony  that came from the tower of Babel, at  the confusion of languages to the begin ning of the fifth century of the Christian  era. We are informed by these records  that America in ancient times has been  inhabited by two distinct races of people.  The first were called Jaredites and came  directly from the tower of Babel. The  second race came directly from the city  of Jerusalem, about six hundred years  before Christ. They were principally Is raelites, of the descendants of Joseph.  The Jaredites were destroyed about the  time that the Israelites came from Jeru salem, who succeeded them in the inheri tance of the country. The principal  nation of the second race fell in battle to wards the close of the fourth century.  The remnant are the Indians that now  inhabit this . This book also tells  us that our Saviour made his appearance  upon this continent after his resurrection,  that he planted the gospel here in all its  fulness, and richness, and power, and  blessing; that they had apostles, prophets,  pastors, teachers and evangelists; the  same order, the same priesthood, the [p. 707] same ordinances, gifts, powers, and bles sing, as was enjoyed on the eastern conti nent, that the people were cut off in con sequence of their transgressions, that the  last of their prophets who existed among  them was commanded to write an abridge ment of their prophesies, history &c.,  and to hide it up in the earth, and that  it should come forth and be united with  the bible for the accomplishment of the  purposes of God in the last days. For  a more particular account I would refer  to the Book of Mormon, which can be  purchased at , or from any of our  travelling elders.
As soon as the news of this discovery  was made known, false reports, misre presentation and slander flew as on the  wings of the wind in every direction, the  house was frequently beset by mobs, and  evil designing persons, several times I  was shot at, and very narrowly escaped,  and every device was made use of to get  the plates away from me, but the power  and blessing of God attended me, and  several began to believe my testimony.
On the 6th of April, 1830, the “Church  of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints,”  was first organized in the town of , Ontario co., state of New York.  Some few were called and ordained by  the spirit of revelation, and prophesy,  and began to preach as the spirit gave  them utterance, and though weak, yet  were they strengthened by the power of  God, and many were brought to repen tance, were immersed in the water, and  were filled with the Holy Ghost by the  laying on of hands. They saw visions  and prophesied, devils were cast out and  the sick healed by the laying on of hands.  From that time the work rolled forth with  astonishing rapidity, and churches were  soon formed in the states of ,  , , Indiana, and  ; in the last named state a con siderable settlement was formed in ; numbers joined the church and  we were increasing rapidly; we made  large purchases of land, our farms teem ed with plenty, and peace and happiness  was enjoyed in our domestic circle and  throughout our neighborhood; but as we  could not associate with our neighbors  who were many of them of the basest of  men and had fled from the face of civ ilized society, to the frontier country to  escape the hand of justice, in their mid night revels, their sabbath breaking,  horseracing, and gambling, they com menced at first ridicule, then to persecute,  and finally an organized mob assembled  and burned our houses, tarred, and feath ered, and whipped many of our brethren  and finally drove them from their habita tions; who houseless, and homeless, con trary to law, justice and humanity, had  to wander on the bleak prairies till the  children left the tracks of their blood on  the prairie, this took place in the month  of November, and they had no other  covering but the canopy of heaven, in  this inclement season of the year; this  proceeding was winked at by the govern ment and although we had warrantee  deeds for our land, and had violated no  law we could obtain no redress.
There were many sick, who were thus  inhumanly driven from their houses, and  had to endure all this abuse and to seek  homes where they could be found. The  result was, that a great many of them  being deprived of the comforts of life,  and the necessary attendances, died;  many children were left orphans; wives,  widows; and husbands widowers.—Our  farms were taken possession of by the  mob, many thousands of cattle, sheep,  horses, and hogs, were taken and our  household goods, store goods, and print ing press, and type were broken, taken,  or otherwise destroyed.
Many of our brethren removed to   where they continued until 1836,  three years; there was no violence offer ed but there were threatnings of violence.  But in the summer of 1836, these threat nings began to assume a more serious  form; from threats, public meetings were  called, resolutions were passed, ven geance and destruction were threatened,  and affairs again assumed a fearful atti tude, was a sufficient  precedent, and as the authorities in that  county did not interfere, they boasted  that they would not in this, which on ap plication to the authorities we found to  be too true, and after much violence,  privation and loss of property we were  again driven from our homes.
We next settled in , and counties, where we made large and  extensive settlements, thinking to free  ourselves from the power of oppression,  by settling in new counties, with very  few inhabitants in them; but here we  were not allowed to live in peace, but in  1838 we were again attacked by mobs [p. 708] an exterminating order was issued by  , and under the sanction of  law an organized banditti ranged through  the country, robbed us of our cattle,  sheep, horses, hogs &c., many of our  people were murdered in cold blood, the  chastity of our women was violated, and  we were forced to sign away our proper ty at the point of the sword, and after en during every indignity that could be  heaped upon us by an inhuman, ungodly  band of maurauders, from twelve to fif teen thousand souls men, women, and  children were driven from their own  fire sides, and from lands that they had  warrantee deeds of, houseless, friendless,  and homeless (in the depth of winter,) to  wander as exiles on the earth or to seek  an asylum in a more genial clime, and  among a less barbarous people.
Many sickened and died, in conse quence of the cold, and hardships they  had to endure; many wives were left  widows, and children orphans, and desti tute. It would take more time than is al lotted me here to describe the injustice,  the wrongs, the murders, the bloodshed,  the theft, misery and woe that has been  caused by the barbarous, inhuman, and  lawless, proceedings of the state of .
In the situation before alluded to we  arrived in the state of in 1839,  where we found a hospitable people and  a friendly home; a people who were wil ling to be governed by the principles of  law and humanity. We have commen ced to build a city called “” in  Hancock co., we number from six to  eight thousand here besides vast numbers  in the around and in almost every  county of the . We have a city  charter granted us and a charter for a le gion the troops of which now number  1500. We have also a charter for a uni versity, for an agricultural and manufac turing society, have our own laws and  administrators, and possess all the priv ileges that other free and enlightened  citizens enjoy.
Persecution has not stopped the pro gress of truth, but has only added fuel to  the flame, it has spread with increasing  rapidity, proud of the cause which  they have espoused and conscious of  their innocence and of the truth of their  system amidst calumny and reproach  have the elders of this church gone forth,  and planted the gospel in almost every  state in the ; it has penetrated our  cities, it has spread over our villages, and  has caused thousands of our intelligent,  noble, and patriotic citizens to obey its  divine mandates, and be governed by its  sacred truths. It has also spread into  England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales:  in the year of 1839 where a few of our  missionaries were sent over five thous and joined the standard of truth, there  are numbers now joining in every land.
Our missionaries are going forth to  different nations, and in Germany, Pales tine, New Holland, the East Indies, and  other places, the standard of truth has  been erected: no unhallowed hand can  stop the work from progressing, persecu tions may rage, mobs may combine, ar mies may assemble, calumny may de fame, but the truth of God will go forth  boldly, nobly, and independent till it has  penetrated every continent, visited every  clime, swept every country, and sounded  in every ear, till the purposes of God  shall be accomplished and the great Je hovah shall say the work is done.
We believe in God the Eternal Father,  and in his son Jesus Christ, and in the  Holy Ghost.
We believe that men will be punished  for their own sins and not for Adam’s  transgression.
We believe that through the atone ment of Christ all mankind may be sa ved by obedience to the laws and ordinan ces of the Gospel.
We believe that these ordinances are  1st, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; 2d,  Repentance; 3d, Baptism by immersion  for the remission of sins; 4th, Laying on  of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.
We believe that a man must be called  of God by “prophesy, and by laying on  of hands” by those who are in authority  to preach the gospel and administer in  the ordinances thereof.
We believe in the same organization  that existed in the primitive church, viz:  apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers,  evangelists &c.
We believe in the gift of tongues,  prophesy, revelation, visions, healing, in terpretation of tongues &c.
We believe the bible to be the word of  God as far as it is translated correctly;  we also believe the Book of Mormon to  be the word of God.
We believe all that God has revealed,  all that he does now reveal, and we be [p. 709]lieve that he will yet reveal many great  and important things pertaining to the  kingdom of God.
We believe in the literal gathering of  Israel and in the restoration of the Ten  Tribes. That Zion will be built upon  this continent. That Christ will reign  personally upon the earth, and that the  earth will be renewed and receive its par adasaic glory.
We claim the privilege of worshipping  Almighty God according to the dictates  of our conscience, and allow all men the  same privilege let them worship how,  where, or what they may.
We believe in being subject to kings,  presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in  obeying, honoring and sustaining the law.
We believe in being honest, true,  chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing  good to all men; indeed we may say that  we follow the admonition of Paul “we  believe all things we hope all things,” we  have endured many things and hope to  be able to endure all things. If there is  any thing virtuous, lovely, or of good re port or praise worthy we seek after these  things. Respectfully &c.,
JOSEPH SMITH. [p. 710]


  1. 1 Joseph Smith Sr. left Vermont in late summer or early fall 1816, when JS was ten years old. The rest of the Smith family joined him in Palmyra in early 1817, shortly after JS turned eleven. (Palmyra, NY, Record of Highway Taxes, 1817, Copies of Old Village Records, 1793–1867, microfilm 812,869, U.S. and Canada Record Collection, FHL; Lucy Mack Smith, History, 1844–1845, bk. 3, [3]–[6]; JS History, vol. A-1, 131nA.)  
  2. 2 Some of the following language used to describe JS’s early visions quotes Orson Pratt’s Interesting Account.  
  3. 3 James 1:5.  
  4. 4 JS identified these two personages as God the Father and Jesus Christ. (JS History, vol. A-1, 3; see also JS History, ca. Summer 1832, 3; JS, Journal, 9–11 Nov. 1835; and JS, “Latter Day Saints,” p. 405.  
  5. 5 See Luke 17:23.  
  6. 6 JS also recounted this experience in JS History, ca. Summer 1832, 4; JS, Journal, 9–11 Nov. 1835; JS History, vol. A-1, 4–7; and JS, “Latter-day Saints.” He previously identified the messenger as Moroni. ([JS], Editorial, Elders’ Journal, July 1838, 42–44.)  
  7. 7 Much of the following account of the gold plates quotes Orson Pratt’s Interesting Account.  
  8. 8 JS organized the church in 1830 as the “Church of Christ”; an 1838 revelation established the full name of the church as used here.a The earliest sources place the meeting at Fayette, New York, and later JS documents support this designation.b Some later documents, including the present history, locate the meeting at Manchester. The discrepancy may originate with William W. Phelps, who was not involved with the church at the time of its organization and therefore appears to have misidentified the location. While preparing the Book of Commandments for publication based on Revelation Book 1, the editors (who included Phelps) added “given in Manchester, NY” to a 6 April 1830 revelation in chapter 22.c Records linked to Phelps or Orson Pratt (who was also not present at the church’s organizational meeting and who later spoke of Fayette as the correct location) state that the 6 April meeting took place in Manchester.d Later printings of the Doctrine and Covenants and Pratt’s Interesting Account either omit references to Manchester as the site or revise the meeting place to Fayette.e  (aArticles and Covenants, ca. Apr. 1830, in Doctrine and Covenants 2:1, 1835 ed. [D&C 20:1]; Revelation, 26 Apr. 1838, in JS, Journal, 26 Apr. 1838 [D&C 115:3–4].bRevelation, 6 Apr. 1830, in Revelation Book 1, p. 28 [D&C 21]; JS History, vol. A-1, 37.cSee Book of Commandments 22 [D&C 21]; compare Revelation Book 1, pp. 28–29.d“Prospects of the Church,” The Evening and the Morning Star, Mar. 1833, [4]; Pratt, Interesting Account, 23; Orson Pratt, in Journal of Discourses, 7 Oct. 1869, 13:193.eDoctrine and Covenants 45–46, 1835 ed. [D&C 21, 23]; Pratt, Remarkable Visions, 12.)
  9. 9 Although some of the original settlers of Clay County were determined to see the Latter-day Saints leave the county, the conditions surrounding the Saints’ departure were markedly less violent than was the earlier episode in Jackson County. (See Parkin, “History of the Latter-day Saints in Clay County,” chap. 8.)  
  10. 10 Boggs charged the state militia with restoring peace to northwest Missouri. If necessary, the governor ordered, the Mormons were to be “exterminated or driven from the state.” (Lilburn W. Boggs, Jefferson City, MO, to John B. Clark, Fayette, MO, 27 Oct. 1838, Mormon War Papers, MSA.)  
  11. 11 About twenty Mormons were killed during the “Mormon War” in Missouri. (LeSueur, 1838 Mormon War in Missouri, 162–168; Baugh, “Call to Arms,” 238–240, 253–298.)  
  12. 12 Although the number of Mormons driven from Missouri is unknown, the estimate of “twelve to fifteen thousand” appears to be too high. Others estimated that about eight thousand Mormons were driven from Missouri. (Eliza R. Snow, Caldwell Co., MO, to Isaac Streator, Streetsborough, OH, 22 Feb. 1839, photocopy, CHL; see also Hartley, “Almost Too Intolerable a Burthen,” 7n2.)  
  13. 13 This may be an overstatement of the Nauvoo population. Although some estimates ran even higher (an article in the 1 October 1842 issue of the Times and Seasons described “a population of 14 or 15,000”), a circa February 1842 church census listed 3,413 Latter-day Saints in Nauvoo. (“Nauvoo,” Times and Seasons, 1 Oct. 1842, 3:936–937; Platt, Nauvoo, vii; Leonard, Nauvoo, 179.)  
  14. 14 The Nauvoo charter was passed by the Illinois legislature and signed by the governor in December 1840. It included a provision for a city university. The agricultural and manufacturing association was incorporated in February 1841. (Journal of the Senate . . . of Illinois, 9 Dec. 1840, 61; Journal of the House of Representatives . . . of Illinois, 12 Dec. 1840, 110; An Act to Incorporate the City of Nauvoo [16 Dec. 1840], Laws of the State of Illinois [1840–1841], 52–57; An Act to Incorporate the Nauvoo Agricultural and Manufacturing Association, in the County of Hancock [27 Feb. 1841], Laws of the State of Illinois [1840–1841], 139–141.)  
  15. 15 A revelation dated 8 July 1838 commanded the Quorum of the Twelve to depart on a mission to Europe. Most of the quorum, along with several other missionaries, left Commerce, Illinois, in 1839, arriving in England in April 1840. They proselytized throughout the British Isles until April 1841, adding approximately five thousand people to the church. (Revelation, 8 July 1838–A, in JS, Journal, 8 July 1838 [D&C 118]; Allen et al., Men with a Mission, 54–302.)  
  16. 16 Although this description of global missionary work reflected assignments and endeavors that had begun by this time, the effort was still in its infancy. After being appointed to fulfill a mission to the Jews, Orson Hyde traveled to Jerusalem, where on 24 October 1841 he dedicated the land in preparation for the gathering of “Judah’s scattered remnants.”a In July 1840, English convert William James Barratt emigrated to New Holland (now Australia) after being ordained an elder by George A. Smith.b The Times and Seasons noted that “Elder William Donaldson, member of the army” was “bound for the East Indies.”c Simeon Carter was assigned to Germany, but the call was suspended.d  (aOrson Hyde, “Interesting News from Alexandria and Jerusalem,” LDS Millennial Star, Jan. 1842, 2:132–136; see also Hyde, Voice from Jerusalem, 6–35. bDevitry-Smith, “William James Barratt,” 53–66.c“News from the Elders,” Times and Seasons, 1 Dec. 1840, 2:229.dJS History, vol. C-1, 1224.)
  17. 17 See 1 Timothy 4:14.  
  18. 18 See Ephesians 4:11.  
  19. 19 See 1 Corinthians 13:7.  
  20. 20 See Philippians 4:8.